Infectious disease expert claims next 2 months will be ‘darkest of entire pandemic’ amid falling death rates

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The director for the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota predicted that the next six to 12 weeks will be the “darkest of the entire pandemic” even as death rates from COVID-19 began falling dramatically in June.

In an interview Sunday on “Meet the Press,” Dr. Michael Osterholm also told host Chuck Todd that he did not agree with the ‘herd immunity’ messaging coming from the Trump administration’s Dr. Scott Atlas.

That said, he Osterholm, who is also a member of the National Academy of Medicine and the Council on Foreign Relations, did acknowledge that COVID-19 vaccines were in the pipeline — a result of President Donald Trump’s “Operation Warp Speed” initiative launched earlier this year by the Department of Health and Human Services.

“We’re not telling the full story. We do have vaccines and therapeutics coming down the pike, but when you look at the time period for that, the next six to 12 weeks are going to be the darkest of the pandemic,” Osterholm said.

“Vaccines will not become available in any meaningful way until early to [the] third quarter of next year. And even then, about half of the U.S. population at this point is skeptical of even taking the vaccine,” he added.

The skepticism is likely politically driven. In recent weeks, as the Trump administration began laying out a timeframe for a vaccine as well as a distribution plan, Democrats have downplayed it, suggesting that President Donald Trump is intentionally endangering Americans’ lives with an early roll-out of an unsafe vaccine.

“I would not trust Donald Trump and it would have to be a credible source of information that talks about the efficacy and the reliability of whatever he’s talking about,” Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Joe Biden’s running mate, told CNN last month when asked if she would take a COVID-19 vaccine if one became available before the election.

Left-leaning media figures have also voiced skepticism over COVID vaccine.

But if or when one comes, despite a rising number of positive COVID cases, the death rate from the disease — now about 700 per day — has fallen dramatically since the peak of about 2,000 per day in April, the Daily Mail reports.

In addition, the fatality rate also has dropped as well, from 60 deaths per 100,000 people to 37 in May down to 27 per 100,000 in June.

As for the vaccine skepticism, Osterholm blamed it on a “major problem in messaging,” saying that Americans don’t currently have a “lead” or “consolidated” voice on the issue.

“People don’t know what to believe, and that’s one of our huge challenges going forward [is] that we’ve got to get a message to the public that reflects the science and reflects reality,” he said, noting further that any herd immunity plan should involve a vaccine program.

“We need somebody to start to articulate, “What is our long-term plan? How are we going to get there? Why are we asking people to sacrifice distancing? Why are we telling people if you really love your family, you won’t go home for Thanksgiving or Christmas and end up infecting mom or dad or grandpa and grandma,’” he told Todd.

“We don’t have that storytelling going on right now, and that’s every bit as important as the science itself,” he continued.

“Friday we had 70,000 cases, matching the largest number we had seen back during the really serious peak in July. That number… we’re going to blow right through that. And between now and the holidays we will see numbers much much larger,” he said.

Regardless of who wins the presidential election in a few weeks, Osterholm said virus leadership is vital.

“This is our covid year. Let’s accept it. Think through this and do them the greatest gift of all. And that is distance yourself this year and don’t expose them. It’s not ideal. We know that. But we’re trying to get through it,” he said.

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Jon Dougherty

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